Tornado no match for Firebird
Hawkins' 29 carries SAGU to 74-63 win over King
SAGU plays Friday night at 6pm (CST) vs NY's Roberts Wesleyan
WINONA LAKE, Indiana -- Legend has it that the Phoenix, a mythical bird with a fiery spirit had a colorful plumage of gold and purple. At the end of its life-cycle it burned fiercely inside its nest. Reduced only to ashes, the Phoenix arose, reborn anew to live again.
On Thursday afternoon there was a new bird on fire. Stephanie Hawkins. The senior guard from DeSoto, Texas was en fuego! But this story is true, and when she caught fire, she burned King College with a 29-point barrage. Her exploits led Southwestern Assemblies of God University to a 74-63 triumph in which they led from start to finish at the NCCAA Nationals.
The Lady Lions jumped to an 8-0 lead on two quick Heather Jefferson (Conroe, Tx / Conroe HS) baskets, one following a steal by Gabby Bruner (Peaster, Tx / Peaster HS), and Jirah Rodriguez (Georgetown, Tx / Georgetown HS) scored a second-chance layup.
Hawkins didn't register a single basket for the first ten minutes of the game. Her fuse was lit on a driving layup at the 10:11 mark, giving SAGU a 13-7 lead. Moments later she torched the Lady Tornado with a pull-up three-ball and a pace-setting 16-7 advantage.
King, from Bristol, Tennessee, made several runs in the game, though they never drew closer than six points the rest of the way. Each surge was countered by one from the Lady Lions, who led by as many as 13 in the first half and 19 in the second stanza.
Southwestern, now 22-12 on the season, advances to Friday's semi-finals of the National Christian College Athletic Association tourney. They will meet Roberts Wesleyan College, 20-11, at 7pm local time (EST) for a chance to play for the national championship at 5pm on Saturday. The Raiders topped the host Grace College Lady lancers in overtime, 67-60, on Thursday night.
NOTE: Friday's game it set to begin at 6pm (CST).
Rodriguez said following the game that the Lady Lions played like a team. "We played like we know how," she added. Melissa Giles (Leander, Tx / Summit Christian), with a season under her belt, pointed out that her teammates "...played SAGU basketball."
Playing SAGU Basketball
That means they played a quick 2-3 zone defense that befuddled the Tornado. Switching to a 1-3-1 zone and adding effective traps, the Lady Lions effectively limited passing lanes inside, forcing King to shoot from beyond. It worked to near perfection. SAGU held the Twisters to 31% shooting for the game, including just 27% after intermission.
The Tornados connected on only 6-of-27 three-point attempts (22%), though they did make five in the second frame to keep them within striking distance. King was good on 19-of-22 free throws, but 20 turnovers were costly.
The area that revealed how focused the top-seeded Lady Lions were on Thursday was their 35-31 edge in rebounds. King, clearly taller and deeper, usually owns the boards. Normally on the short end, SAGU appeared hungrier and fresher in spite of having four starters strapped with four fouls apiece during the final nine minutes.
Big Second Half Plays Stave off the Tornado
With the Tornado churning to within 43-37 on a trey by Jessica Tharpe, momentum was teetering towards the Blue Storm.
"We needed something to help us breakaway," chimed Rachel Harris (Joshua, Tx / Bethesda Christian). "They kept making runs and we needed a big shot."
Hawkins hit her with an inbounds pass in the far right corner and Harris wasted little time executing the play. She launched a trifecta to perfecta – touching only the bottom of the basket for a 47-37 margin.
"As soon as I shot it," she said, "I knew it was on!"
So was Hawkins, who poured in 16 of her career-best 29 points in the second half. Her previous highs were 28 against Southwestern Christian (Okla) and 27 versus Huston-Tillotson during her sophomore season. She made 9-of-18 shots, three triples, and 8-of-10 fouls shots. She also had six rebounds and three assists. In her previous game, against Southwestern Christian at the Central Regional, the Hawk soared for 24.
Hawkins Inspired Play
In the Red River Athletic Conference heartbreaking loss to Langston University, she had four assists, four rebounds, four steals and 12 points in a last minute loss. Her missed free throw would've tied the game. She has been on fire ever since, making amends by making the most of every opportunity.
She wasn't alone. Jefferson, her senior backcourt mate, was almost her equal through stages of the game. The quick-silver guard had 16 points, swishing 6-of-11 tries, grabbing five rebounds, dishing out four assists and getting credited with a pair of thefts.
Lost in the victory was senior NAIA All-American forward Chelsea Jones (San Antonio, Tx / Cornerstone Christian). Criticized by the livestream broadcasters for a performance she "wouldn't want anyone to see on tape," she only scored 15, made 6-of-12 shots, two triples, two assists and a game high six steals. All while playing sick. You should see her on a good day!
Jones sank her first three-ball for a 34-24 lead late in the first half. Her second came on a Hawkins assist when she froze the defender with her patented "I'm not even thinking about shooting" look. She then 'dropped it like it was hot' from 20 feet for a 52-39 advantage.
Moments later Jefferson fired a dart to Hawkins on the right wing, and she unloaded a deep blast for another trey and a 55-39 scoreboard bulge (11:39 left).
Down the stretch the Tornado took advantage of a few threes and some highly questionable calls against Southwestern, fueling a free throw aided rally to score seven unanswered points. Jefferson and Jones both countered by picking off passes and zooming from New York to Portland with easy layups and a 60-48 lead (6:20).
Bruner: Back to Basics
Bruner was her fundamental self all day. She made two steals and laid claim to seven boards, all on the defensive end with text-book block-outs. Then, doing the same on another carom, 5'10 Kalen Collins went well over her back in a bid for the ball. The whistle blew, but the official called Bruner for going over Collins back in perhaps the most puzzling call of the night. It was Bruner's fifth.
King trailed 60-52 after Bruner departed (5:49). Once again SAGU nullified the Tornado by going for the jugular with a 14-3 run to put the game away. The defense held King to one basket over a span of 5:30 as the lead swelled to 74-55 with a minute left.
The Tornado hit a pair of threes and made a layup in the final thirty seconds. It was window dressing to minimize a 19-point debt.
Making the Deans List
They were led almost entirely by senior Ashley Deans, who had an impressive showing. She was 8-of-16 from the field. Derika Mooney, their #2 scorer, was held to six points on 1-of-7 shooting. Tharpe, King's three-point ace, netted 10 points. She was just 2-of-10 beyond the arc.
Hankins, who came off the bench to share game-high honors with Deans (25 points) in rebounds (with eight), was tough in the paint all day. She helped SAGU hold a decisive 32-16 edge in points scored in the lane. 'High C,' as she is known to teammates, also had several blocked shots and a pair of steals, including one with three minutes remaining.
Rodriguez tossed in eight points on 3-of-5 shooting and had four boards.
First Half Key Plays
After making two free throws for a 20-12 lead, Hawkins blocked an attempted three on the left wing. Up 22-16 and the shot clock down to three seconds, Jefferson inbounded from the side to Hawkins. The Hawk was well covered but leapt to trigger a 25-footer that ripped the nets to extend the lead to 25-16.
Jefferson knifed inside from the top of the key before Jirah made a circus move. The pride of Georgetown went right, and then spun left across the lane, lifting a high, left-handed scoop shot that kissed the window before dropping the cylinder for a crowd-pleasing deuce (29-18). Hawkins cashed in her own twirling drive when she stroked a fade-away from eight-feet.
Jones detonated a 3-bomb at the two-minute warning, and then Harris made a steal and hit Jefferson in transition to go up 36-24. Speaking of firing a shot, a minute later Jones sparked a bang-bang-bang play. She stole the ball in the backcourt, tipped it to Harris, who quickly gave it back to Jones. She dribbled once towards the paint then zipped a laser to Hawkins who was streaking through the back door for an open bucket (39-26).
The Lions, who shot 58% (14-of-24) in the first half, led at recess, 39-30. They still managed 46% in the second half (11-of-24) to finish at 52%. They were 6-of-14 from long distance. Making just 18-of-26 on the charity stripe wasn't great, but every point made from there was another the Twisters had to make up.
Reliving the Moment
Fans can purchase a DVD of the game as well as select from over 40 action photos, all available for purchase from the Grace College website.
The 7pm (6pm Texas time) webcast from Winona Lake is available for fans to view ($6.95 per game). While not produced in high definition and utilizing only one camera, the access is a great opportunity to follow SAGU in their bid to win the NCCAA crown. The pre-game show starts approximately twenty minutes before the schedule game time.
NAIA Tournament Results of Interest
Fellow RRAC members Langston University and Texas Wesleyan University qualified for the 32-team NAIA national tournament field. Langston (2905) opened play on Thursday with a 54-47 win over Vanguard University (Cal) (20-12). LU, the No. 4 seed, will take #1 Campbellsville (Ky) (29-3) on Friday at 8pm. Campbellsville eliminated John Brown (Ark), 76-51. SAGU played the JBU Golden Eagles in their season debut in November.
In RRAC men's games, #6 ranked Texas Wesleyan blew a six point lead with a minute to play, falling to Rogers State (Ok) by 66-64. LSU-Shreveport won big, 106-80, over Life University (Ga).